[RPG] How to run a successful and engaging campaign without combat


I'm thinking of starting my own campaign with a few of my friends with me as DM, primarily because I wasn't extremely impressed with the campaign my friend was DMing. When I started thinking about the things I really didn't like, one of the biggest ones ended up being combat.

It's possible that our DM just wasn't creating very interesting encounters, but it seemed like combat always took way too long, was just a bunch of us sitting around rolling dice, and every single one was the same.

How can I keep a campaign interesting and engaging with minimal combat encounters? Instead, the game could be based around diplomacy, exploration, puzzle solving, gathering intelligence, stealth, etc.; but I'm having trouble thinking of non-combat quests and fleshing them out to the point where they are actually playable. Some combat is okay, but I don't want the quest to revolve around it.

Has anyone here run games like this? What do you usually base the quests around? How can I keep things interesting and still allow the players to advance their skills? Can you outline or link to any sample quests that have a minimal amount of combat encounters?

Do note: although fixing the issues I stated with combat could help this situation, that's not what I'm looking for here. I will probably ask a different question about making combat encounters more bearable so this one can be focused on running campaigns without combat.

Best Answer

Well, for starters, I'd say don't use D&D. It is a game tailored towards violent conflicts, which is exactly what you're avoiding, it seems. Mind you, I said "violent conflicts". No story, thus no game, can exist without any conflict whatsoever. I'm not also saying it's completely undoable with D&D, just mainly... a waste of its design and practical goals. Another way to put it, to use a metaphor, is: smartphones are great, you can do a lot with them, they're like handheld computers... But they can't really substitute a desktop computer in every way, maybe not even most ways.

Now, if you're willing to work outside of D&D, there are some good systems out there for that "action and adventure doesn't mean swinging swords all the time" vibe you're after, like, for example, Fate (The Dresden Files RPG, Spirit of the Century, Diaspora, etc), in which most of the mechanics about resolving conflicts are the same, regardless if it's a brawl, a wardrobe and style show off or even an economic dispute between Lex Luthor and Bruce Wayne. It's worth a look, really, and there are SRDs available for some of those games (Spirit of the Century and Diaspora, iirc).

If you're sticking to D&D, plotting the campaign isn't the difficult part; the difficult part is to design encounters (which is just a way of saying "conflict scene") that allow your PCs to shine doing their thing when most of their sheets are geared towards combat (yeah, players do that, it being the game it is).

For the wizard (most hocus-pocus folks, really) and rogue, that's easy. Most other types, though, will rely purely on RP, most of the time, which isn't bad per se, just kinda unfair, since some players get to look at their sheets and say "I can do this, this and that", while the fighter's player has to memorize lines from Gladiator and the ranger's player has to become a living Bear Grylls encyclopedia.

If your group can pull it off, that campaign'd be the stuff of legends, but it'll be hard, really.